Showing at the Melbourne Queer Film Festival
Writer / Director: Gregor Schmidinger
“An intelligent wild ride of internal chaos that ultimately leads to a healing message of inner peace“
The universal human need to escape our often too frightening, strange and very real feelings is something we can all relate to. In NevRland, Austrian director Gregor Schmidinger perhaps asks us to embrace the ‘chaos in ourselves’ in order to break through to new lands of self-discovery.
Showing currently at Melbourne Queer Film Festival, Schmidinger’s debut award-winning feature opens with the famous Nietzsche quote: “I say unto you: one must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star…” and then proceeds to send us on a thrilling journey into the chaos inside 17-year-old Jakob who battles a debilitating anxiety disorder.
Living with his father and grandfather in Vienna, Jakob (Simon Fruhwirth) is navigating that awkward limbo stage between high school and college. He spends his time working at his father’s workplace, a slaugtherhouse, and attempting to escape his anxiety in the sanctuary of his ‘safe’ bedroom, listening to trance-like meditations and browsing sex chat sites.
Jakob’s protective cocoon is challenged when he randomly meets 26-year-old Kristjan on a cam-chat sex site. Their paths continue to cross, without actually meeting, until the confident and charming Kristjan probes and encourages the shy and nervous Jakob to come to an underground party.
Jakob still doesn’t meet his mysterious admirer until after a devastating family loss he reaches out to Kristjan. When the two finally come face to face in Kristyan’s apartment, Jakob is made an offer that will propel him into a frenetic inner world where he must face his deepest and darkest fears.
Schmidinger, who also wrote the screenplay, has created a visual rollercoaster full of clever symbolism and metaphors which while at times border on cliche, are effective in a contructing a visceral and sensual experience.
The rich artistic influence of Austria is also evident in references to both modern and traditional artworks. The dangly fleshy pig carcasses in the slaughterhouse and blood splattered floors juxtaposed with grunting male threesomes on Jakob’s favourite porn sites are reminiscent of Francis Bacon’s human / animal-like work.
Cinematographer Jo Molitoris’s moody lighting and subdued colour tones futher complement the sensuality of the film and the mysterious nature of the psyche. We rarely see the bright light of day, but rather dark rooms and low-lit spaces that perhaps reflect Jakob’s deep seated hidden fears.
The film takes on a theatrical tone as Jakob undergoes Jungian style roleplay therapy using chairs, and as the teenager is catapulted into a metaphorical dream sequence when he confronts the fears lurking at the recesses of his mind.
Impressively winning a Best Young Actor award at Max Ophulus Prize, lead actor Simon Fruhwirth in his first film role effortlessly creates a sense of aching vulnerability and restrained fear bubbling under the surface. You can feel that painful inner tension of the 17-yr-old that we all know as well as the lustful desire of a young man longing for connection.
Writer/Director Schmidinger obviously has a fascination with psychology and has done a superb job at crafting an intelligent story that is very relatable to anyone who has struggled with anxiety, or felt the longing to break through personal barriers and reach for union with another. Though at times a certain naivety bleeds through in the all too familiar story techniques, at the same time this is endearingly appropriate given the search for NevRland as the story’s thematic backdrop.
Originally known as a fictional island in the works of J.M Barrie, Neverland (or Nevrland) has had many incarnations in pop culture as a mythical faraway place of escape for those who refuse to grow up, such as Peter Pan (or Michael Jackson?). But Schmidinger’s Nevrland is really a place of no escape where fears must be confronted and pain acknowledged in order ‘break on through to the other side’ and overcome the self.
When Jakob asks Krystan “Do you believe in a soul?”, he is silently led through a ‘portal’ of white hanging drapes at the art gallery to begin his ‘point of no return’ into the opening of the mind. Young artist Krystan replies, “It’s not so much about understanding it, it’s more about experiencing it”.
NevRland is definitely an experience and an intelligent wild ride of internal chaos that ultimately leads to a healing message of inner peace.
Written by Nick Dale